The two-car RFS Motorsport team of Christiaan du Plooy/Henk Janse van Vuuren and Hannes Grobler/Hennie ter Stege (RFS BMW X3) survived a tough opening round of the Absa Off Road Car Championship to finish a respectable fourth and sixth respectively in the production vehicle category of the RFS Magalies 400 near Magaliesburg on Saturday.
For the increasingly competitive young pairing of Du Plooy and Janse van Vuuren it was an impressive fight back from 11th position at the start after being delayed by a puncture in Friday’s 58 kilometre Donaldson prologue. The experienced Grobler and Ter Stege showed all their guile and skill in overcoming a lowly 16th place on the grid for Saturday’s race after also suffering a puncture in the prologue and battling to remove a bent wheel rim.
The race was won by Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst in a Ford Ranger from team-mates Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable. Terence Marsh and George Smalberger were third in a Nissan Navara. The original field of 53 production and special vehicles was reduced to 31 at the finish, with 15 out of 27 production vehicles reaching the finish at the Tarlton International Raceway.
With both production and special vehicles competing together in the 330 kilometre race, Grobler found himself way back in 30th place, over seven minutes behind the leading Toyota Hilux of Gary Bertholdt, for the start at the Tarlton Raceway, with Du Plooy not much better off in 23rd place, over four minutes behind the leader..
This was to prove to be a major disadvantage as overtaking was made very difficult by a dry, windless day that saw the thick dust hang in the air for minutes and dangerously reduce visibility. Compounding the challenge was a rocky route that resulted in many punctures throughout the field.
By the time the leaders had reached the compulsory service stop at Tarlton Raceway, after completing two of the three 110 kilometre loops that made up the race route, Du Plooy had moved up to an impressive fifth place among the production vehicles, 18 minutes behind the leader, Visser in the Ford Ranger. Grobler, despite suffering a puncture in each of the two loops, was a remarkable eighth, a further 10 minutes in arrears, after having to battle past eight production vehicles and a host of specials.
“You forget how difficult it is to battle back from a low starting position, particularly in such dusty conditions,” said the veteran four-time champion. “Hennie and I worked very hard today!”
While Du Plooy maintained his fourth position throughout the final leg to the finish, crossing the line 18 minutes behind the winning Ford of Visser and Badenhorst, Grobler used all his guile and experience to make up another two places to finish sixth, 29 minutes in arrears.
The next round of the championship is the Toyota Dealer 400 in Mpumalanga on April 13 and 14.
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